After a nine-week rally drought over the summer, the FIA World Rally Championship marks its return with two events in two weeks. Next weekend, straight after Rally Deutschland, the action moves to the gravel roads of central Finland for the tenth...
After a nine-week rally drought over the summer, the FIA World Rally Championship marks its return with two events in two weeks. Next weekend, straight after Rally Deutschland, the action moves to the gravel roads of central Finland for the tenth of the 16 round WRC series.
Formerly known as 'The Rally of the Thousand Lakes', Rally Finland is regarded as one of the classics of the WRC calendar and features smooth gravel stages that pass through stunning forest scenery and around the lakes that gave the rally its original name. With awe-inspiring stages and a record of producing some of the best drivers in the WRC, Finland is regarded as the spiritual home of rallying and it is estimated that a fifth of the entire population will turn out to watch their round of the Championship.
Often referred to as the 'Finnish Grand Prix', Rally Finland is unquestionably the fastest of the season. Smooth, wide, undulating gravel stages enable drivers to reach breath-taking speeds of more than 200kph, while the numerous 'yumps', the famous Finnish jumps that feature throughout the route, demand the ultimate in confidence and precision driving. Technically, the event is a difficult one.Jumps can launch a car 50 metres through the air and lead directly into blind crests and sixth gear corners. With average speeds of around 120kph, the event demands unwavering commitment and bravery.
Event pairing adds another dimension to the challenge for 2006. Most cars are due to arrive in Finland on Tuesday morning and teams will face a race against the clock to transform them from asphalt to gravel specification.A Superspecial at the Killeri horse-trotting track opens the rally on Thursday 17 August, with the first of 19 more 'proper' stages following on Friday morning. The rally comprises 351.61 competitive kilometres and is due to finish at 1454hrs on Sunday in the host town of Jyvaskyla.
Kronos Total Citroen
The three Xsaras have been offloaded from the ferry on Tuesday morning at around 13.30 and were sent to the Kronos workshop's in Jyvaskyla. One hour later all the material was unloaded and the fifteen mechanics ready to start working.
Sebastien Loeb: "Finland rally was always the most difficult for me to win. It's very specific, very fast places, jumps, crests, very difficult. Last year I was in a good rhythm for the first time here, not enough to win, but not so far away. I am happy with the settings on the car, so I will do my best. For me it would be the rally I would like to win, so it would be a great moment like it was when I won Sweden. Okay, we'll see. I will try to go faster."
Daniel Sordo: No quote available.
The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team is once again competing in full strength at the "Neste Rally Finland". Therefore Stohl/Minor (Aut) and H. Solberg/Menkerud (Nor) can also score in the manufacture WRC at the 10th run to the FIA World Rally Championship. The OMV Team plans to cut a very fine figure there even though the Finland Rally ranks among the most challenging WRC runs. While it is the sixth participation for Stohl in Scandinavia, Solberg has even more Finland-experience by one run.
Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "It is simply incredible. Most of the time you are up in the air - that is, at least, what it feels like. A feeling that is further heightened by the high speed. And the spectators are incredibly enthusiastic, too. That is pure rallying."
Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "I am really looking forward to rallying again. It has been a very long break. For me it was even longer since I didn't compete in the OMV ADAC Rallye. Now it is time to score driver points and manufacture WRC points as well, of course. I believe that we will cut a fine figure in Finland. It is a course made for the Peugeot 307 WRC."
Ford's flying Finns will carry the hopes of their home nation when they aim to continue their country's remarkable record on the Rally Finland (17 - 20 August). Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen will delight their legions of fans if either of their Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars wins this 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, a triumph that would mark Finland's 50th victory in the event's 56-year history.
Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: "I don't really need to tell anyone that Finland is one of my favourite rallies, I think everyone knows that. Rallying is so huge in my country and Rally Finland is such a massive event that nothing can take away the enjoyment of winning here. I will never get fed up with that. I want to experience that again and after a good test last month I think the Ford Focus can win.
Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "I just can't wait for the start. The rally is so fast and the roads are such great fun to drive. The jumps are massive and it's a great feeling to be behind the wheel of a car that is flying sideways through the air at top speed. I have my targets for the weekend but I'm keeping those to myself. All I will say is that it's a shame for me that Marcus will be in the same car because in Finland he is the man to beat.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford
Kosti Katajamki will join Stobart Ford for Finland.
Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "I'm looking forward to Finland as it's a gravel event and it should suit my driving style. I attended the BP Ford World Rally Team test and sat alongside Marcus Gronholm when he tested there so I gained a lot from that. It's a flat out event and it has big jumps. We'll be looking to complete the event and gain experience rather than go for all out results but I'm sure it will be enjoyable all the same."
Kosti Katajamaki: "It's quite difficult to say in numbers where I want to be at the finish. I want to go faster and faster on every stage and finish at the top of the private drivers. I don't think there's an advantage for the Finns. This will be my fourth time in Jyvaskyla and there are many drivers who have been here more than me. Of course, the type of the stages is quite familiar for us, but it doesn't make a big difference."
The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two cars in Rally Finland. One of the two Impreza WRC2006's will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills), the other by Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall).
Petter has driven the rally seven times before. Last year the Norwegian had a heavy landing after a jump on the first day of competition and extensively damaged the rear of his Impreza WRC2005. Subaru technicians repaired the car in the final 45-minute service of the day and Petter went on to finish fourth.
Chris competed in Rally Finland for the first time in 2004 when he drove a privately-entered Group N Impreza. The Australian made his Finland WRC debut last year and set some highly competitive times before retiring on SS19 with a mechanical problem.
Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "In Finland I'm just going to be patient from the start and do a little fine-tuning as we go on. We've now got to show we can perform, and there's some pressure on all of us to make things work. I hope we will be fast enough to fight for the win - I've been second and third before and know the event very well. I want a good result for the people back in the factory - they are working flat out."
Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "This will be my third Rally Finland and it's an event I really enjoy. It's good fun to drive, it's so fast and the jumps are incredible.The testing we've done over the summer gave us some valuable information and everything suggests we've made a big step forward with the car. I'm now looking forward to putting it into action on gravel.I'd like to be as competitive as the top five guys; I don't think a podium finish is impossible."